It's been eighteen years since I was in that group of awakening tweens, and the kids who are in it now are so different from me that it's kind of scary. They're smarter, they're more tech savvy, they are more connected. They were raised using digital technology, so they know how to get the answers they want. And if Mom and Dad won't talk to them about things, they'll get those answers from friends or from the Internet. Or from books.
Books were my life force as a kid. I was always very shy (and still am, to some degree). But during those awkward adolescent years, I had very few books to help me transition, to help me face those darker times ahead. I had Sweet Valley High (hard-hitting stuff there, /sarcasm). I liked those books well enough, but I wanted more. Which is why I loved the books by Norma Klein--books that touched on sexuality and teens. I still remember reading "It's Okay If You Don't Love Me" as a twelve-year old and being shocked that the author was writing an actual sex scene, and that the girl was the experienced one!
That book was pretty risque for me at the time. And in just a year, I was moving on to adult authors like Stephen King and John Jakes. I was hungry for books and for information, and my parents encouraged me to read.
Did they always like what I was reading? No. Did they say I couldn't read certain books? Yes. Did I read them anyway? Absolutely. (Sorry, Mom and Dad)
Teens are going to do what you tell them not to do. How is it that we grow up and forget that little tidbit of information?
So why the sudden long post on YA and reading? Because of a Wall Street Journal article that's been making the blog and Twitter rounds since Saturday. "Darkness Too Visible" made me laugh, and then it made me angry. Because the author seems sincere in thinking that our children should be shielded from difficult topics like sexuality, rape, and self-injury. Hello?!! That stuff is happening RIGHT THE HELL NOW in our schools, to our children, and your answer is to pretend it's not? To hide these scary facts from tweens and teens, and tell authors to write happy books?
There is a lot going on in YA literature right now, but you only have to look as far as "Speak" by Laurie Halse Anderson to understand why it's important that authors write about these topics.
Graphic violence/sex is not new to adolescents (sorry, parents). It's all over television and movies, and it's in every magazine and billboard. It's there. So rather than trying to cover up their eyes and pretend it isn't, talk to your kids. Ask THEM questions, instead of waiting for them to come to you (because they probably won't). It's easier for teens to talk to other teens, instead of talking to a grownup, so you need to start the dialogue. Not the lecture. Not the "don't do this/don't read this."
A few other great blog posts have popped up in response to the WSJ piece, and I want to link to those.
The awesome Jackie Morse Kessler has a piece, as her book "Rage" was mentioned in the article. Leave Jackie a little love on her blog, and then go buy her book. You won't regret it.
Booking Through 365 has an article, written by an actual teenager. Good stuff there.
And from Publisher's Weekly. From that article:
Teens are committing suicide because of bullying, eating disorders are common, even kids in “nice” neighborhoods have drug problems, and kids sometimes get pregnant. And sadly, some kids grow up in abused households with alcoholic parents. Reading about kids with alcoholic parents can make a kid feel better. Kids reading about cutting will not make them cutters. It might, however, make them recognize when one of their friends is cutting and could use help.
We can't hide our kids from the darkness in the world. But we can talk to them about it. And that, dear parents, starts with you.